A Cook County judge has bid good night to the attempt of a woman involved in Schiller Park community politics to unmask the identity of a local blogger she believes defamed her online, saying the blogger’s allegedly defamatory writings are actually easily identified as constitutionally protected statements of opinion and satire.
On Dec. 9, Cook County Circuit Judge Kathy M. Flanagan dismissed the petition for discovery brought by plaintiff Irene Moskal DelGiudice against Facebook, Automattic Inc. – which operates the online blogging platform, Wordpress – and 1&1 Mail and Media Inc.
DelGiudice, who in court documents referred to herself as Moskal, had filed the petition in late August, asking the court to compel the online publishing site operators to reveal the identity of a person who blogs under the screen moniker “James J. Tompson,” and who she claimed maligned her in blog posts at the “Healing of Schiller Park” blog hosted at website jamesjtompson.wordpress.org She intended to use the information to sue the blogger for defamation.
In court documents, DelGiudice described herself as “elderly” and a retired inspector for the Illinois Secretary of State. Moskal further said she has been a trustee for the Village of Schiller Park, a member of the board of education for Schiller Park School District 81 and, since 1989, a Triton College trustee. Moskal is also president of the Polish-American Congress’ Illinois Division, which addresses issues affecting Polish-Americans.
Her petition alleged the first instance of purported defamation occurred July 1 when “Tompson” chided DelGiudice for constantly “weighing in with her vastly one sided and heavily inflated opinion” on anything happening in Schiller Park. The blogger also questioned whether she “actually has her own opinion at all and simply parrots the thoughts of others,” describing her as the “type that will talk about how terrible something is without actually knowing any facts.”
The blogger in subsequent posts called DelGiudice a “political pawn,” and seemingly needled her by posting the lyrics to the song, “Goodnight Irene.”
DelGiudice also took issue with other posts by “Tompson,” as well.
In reply, the blogger, identified as John Doe in the court documents, as well as Facebook and Wordpress’ corporate parent, asked the court to dismiss the petition, as the postings identified in DelGiudice’s petition were nothing more than satire and political opinion, clearly protected by constitutional guarantees of free speech.
“These posts al involve critique of the petitioner’s public political work on various boards and positions in the town of Schiller Park,” the judge wrote. “The posts are expressions of opinion protected by the First Amendment.”
The judge described the blog posts as “broad and conclusory,” saying they “certainly can be viewed as hyperbolic, dramatic and in some cases, satirical.”
“Looking at the blog posts in context, it is clear that the writer is expressing beliefs and opinions, as opposed to facts,” Flanagan said. “Thus, the posts here are protected opinion and not defamatory.”
Since the content of the blog is not “actionable” as defamation claims, the judge said allowing DelGiudice to amend her petition would be “pointless.”
DelGiudice was represented in the action by attorney Mark G. Grzymala, of Skokie.
The blogger “James J. Tompson” was represented by the Mudd Law Offices, of Chicago.
The firm of Perkins Coie defended Facebook, and Automattic Inc. was represented by Agrawal Evans LLP, of Chicago.